2015, Books, Non-Fiction

All Who Go Do Not Return (2015) by Shulem Deen

This is an excellent, heartbreaking and infuriating memoir of a man’s loss of faith and subsequent expulsion from an extremist religious sect. I stumbled upon this book due to a Reply All episode (which I would also recommend) and I’m so happy that happened. This is not a world I know anything about so I am happy to learn.

Deen is a pretty great storyteller. Though this is very much his journey, he does an excellent job of balancing his perspective with his attempts to see the perspectives of others, and he does this while writing a compelling, page-turning narrative. Though I knew what was going to happen – due to the podcast episode and his own narrative devices – I still felt compelled to read on, especially the closer and closer to the “climax” I got. All the while, I felt his warmth for aspects of this way of life and, particularly, for his family. It’s a hard tightrope to walk and he walks it well.

The book made me very mad. I am generally one of those liberals who believes that we should tolerate the illiberal unless it is illegal but reading this book makes me wonder if either we (well, the US) need better laws or we need to tolerate the illiberal less. The way this community operates in the 21st century is appalling. If there were Hasidic terrorists in North America we would be as scared as them as many people are of extremist Muslims and Christians. As an atheist, I find it extremely hard to tolerate what amounts to generational brainwashing. It is to Deen’s credit that his portrayal of them is as balanced as it is. It is to his further credit that he only implies and tacitly one of the worst aspects of all of this, that this persists because certain people lead very comfortable lives as a result.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in religion, in extremism, in alternative modes of living or who just wants to read a page-turning memoir. It’s an excellent book and I cannot recommend it enough.


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